Homo spectator: Public space in the age of the spectacle

Philosophy and Social Criticism 34 (5):467-486 (2008)
Abstract
This article develops a novel approach to the relationship between public space and democracy. It employs the concept of the spectacle to show how public space can serve to destroy or weaken solidarity just as easily as it can foster a democratic ethos of equality. A close reading of Rousseau's Letter to M. d'Alembert on the Theatre helps illuminate the political implications of modern public life, which increasingly takes the form of passive individuals assembling in order to view a spectacle. According to Rousseau, spectacles like the theater are depoliticizing because they undermine the opportunity for active participation and interaction with other citizens. By habituating the audience to theatrical modes of self-presentation, they also weaken the capacity for empathy. This article concludes by showing how contemporary theorists including Sennett, Debord and Habermas also contribute to our understanding of the concept of the spectacle. Key Words: citizenship • democracy • festival • public space • Jean-Jacques Rousseau • Richard Sennett • spectacle • theater.
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